Have you heard of vodka sauce? This lesser-known sauce has quite a cult following. Every sauce company has its own version of vodka sauce, and the recipe for homemade vodka pizza sauce has a few variables, including how much vodka is added to get the perfect sauce.
The classic vodka sauce is most commonly used on pasta, specifically the Italian dish vodka a la penne. But it also is excellent on pizza. We tried a few of the store-bought sauces, and while some were better than others, we thought we could make a better one at home.
Like most dishes, the homemade version is better.
What is Vodka Sauce?
Vodka sauce starts with a classic marinara recipe that is reduced and mixed with heavy cream and, you guessed it, vodka. The sauce is reduced until it is thick enough to use on a pizza.
First and foremost, if you want to try vodka sauce and are concerned about the alcohol content, don’t worry; the alcohol cooks off while the sauce is reducing. Then in the oven, it is cooked again so you get a nice flavor, but with 0% alcohol, so it’s suitable for anyone that doesn’t drink liquor, like kids or teetotalers.
And don’t worry, the sauce itself is gluten free, so focus on the right pizza dough if that’s your thang. Be sure to check all ingredients in any store-bough vodka sauces, they always seem to throw in something that may contain gluten.
What Does Vodka Sauce Taste Like?
Of course, the million-dollar question is, but what does it taste like? Well, it has a richness to it thanks to the heavy cream, the marinara provides the acid, and the vodka gives it a bite. The flavor is a cross between savory with a slightly sweet tangy nod. The creaminess of the sauce adds a velvety texture that is as unique as it is delicious.
The color of vodka sauce can be a reddish-orange, bright orange, or deep rust color. Some chefs add up to a cup of vodka, others keep it to ⅓ of a cup of vodka, and the heavy cream varies too, depending on the level of acid that the chef is going for in the dish.
How to Make Homemade Vodka Sauce?
Homemade vodka pizza sauce is a simple endeavor that any home chef can put together. The most important thing required is patience because the sauce has to be reduced three times to get an intense flavor and rich color.
To make homemade vodka pizza sauce, you will need:
- 1 28 oz. can of San Marzano whole tomatoes
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- ½ cup of vodka (any brand is fine)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 2 Tablespoons of olive oil plus a bit more for a nice drizzle
Equipment you will need:
- A blender or food processor
- Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot
- Silicone spatula
- Silicone pastry brush
Start by dumping your whole San Marzano tomatoes in a bowl and use clean hands to smoosh them together and break them up, then set aside. Next, add olive oil, garlic, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes to a Dutch oven and sauté for about one minute.
Be careful because garlic is sneaky and will cook fast. If it’s burnt, go back to the beginning because burnt garlic is awful and will ruin your sauce. So one to two minutes is all it needs on medium. Then dump in your crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Stay close and keep stirring. It should turn deep red as it reduces.
After about 20 to 25 minutes, add the cup of heavy cream. Keep stirring and bring it to medium-high heat for a minute, then drop it again to a low simmer, and keep stirring. Never turn your back on a cream sauce!
When you add the cream, your dark red sauce will turn orange, but as it cooks down, it will become darker and less like Thousand Island dressing and more like a burnt rust-like color. If the color is off-putting, you can add a squeeze or two of tomato paste which will deepen the color without affecting the taste.
Let the sauce low simmer for another twenty minutes. Then add a half cup of vodka, keep stirring, and cook for an additional ten minutes. Don’t stop stirring. Ask a friend to make you a drink and keep stirring.
The sauce should thicken up quite a bit. Next, remove from heat and let cool while still stirring. When it’s cool enough to add to the blender, start small and blend a little at a time. If you like a chunky sauce, then blend half and add it back. If you prefer a smoother pizza sauce, then blend all of it in small batches.
You can use it right away or store it in the refrigerator for two days. We don’t recommend freezing because the cream and marinara will separate.
Now you are ready to make pizza. This recipe should yield enough for two large pizzas. But you can try it on pasta or baguette slices or even use it as a dipping sauce for garlic cheesy bread.
A Tale of Two Crusts
There are no hard rules about making pizza with vodka pizza sauce. You can use your favorite homemade pizza dough recipe or store-bought dough, or premade crust. We made these two in the photos with sourdough.
The sourdough tanginess complements the vodka sauce perfectly. We made one pizza with a traditional white sourdough crust. And we made one with whole wheat sourdough pizza crust.
To be honest, they were both good. But texture played a key role. Whole wheat sourdough has a chewier crust that is a bit thicker and denser than white sourdough. But we really liked them both.
Expert pizzaiolos recommend using fresh mozzarella when making vodka sauce pizza instead of low-moisture mozzarella to complement the creaminess of the sauce. So we used homemade mozzarella torn into chunks and sprinkled some Italian seasoning on top.
Pizza Topping Ideas for Vodka Sauce Pizza
Vodka pizza sauce has an intense richness that is the clear star of the pizza. But there are a few toppings that can match the pizza; if just mozzarella seems a bit boring, salty prosciutto is a nice addition. Fresh arugula would work, too, because it has that fresh peppery taste and the texture contrasts nicely with the velvety sauce.
Other ideas for toppings for vodka sauce pizza:
- Umami rich mushrooms
- Crumbles of blue cheese
- Fresh crunchy Bell peppers
- Thinly sliced raw red onion
What is your favorite way to use vodka pizza sauce?